After finishing up work on Penny Arcade's On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness, Hothead Games began work on their own franchise, headed by legendary game designer Ron Gilbert who you may know from such LucasArts adventures games as The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. Through this partnership Death Spank was formed, a game about an overeager hero who has sworn to bring justice to the land by any means necessary. The Baconing is the third game in the Death Spank saga and picks up where Thongs of Virtue concluded. After vanquishing his foes and obtained the five Thongs of Virtue, Death Spank decides to put them on and in doing so unwittingly unleashes a great evil called the Anti-Spank who threatens to break the world. Death Spank is charged with destroying each Thong by casting them into the five Bacon Fires a la Lord of the Rings.
The Baconing does not stray too far from the formula established by the last few games, something that may (or may not, depending on your feelings for the franchise) put people off. Narratively speaking, the game's adventure is often amusing but on the whole, bland. The side missions and things you see off the beaten path end up being the most attention getting. If you're looking for a brand new experience, chances are you'll come away disappointed.
Just like before, The Baconing is an action role playing game in a the vein of titles like Champions of Norrath. You'll traverse the world from an isometric point of view and use a host of weapons to hack enemies down. All the pre-requisites of an RPG are here: hit points, a customizable character and experience points. Enemies will drop piles and piles of loot for Death Spank to use and equip, so much in fact that you'll never really make use of the in-game vendors unless you ramp up the game's difficulty (which goes all the way to “Insane”).
The Baconing's structure is not unlike an adventure game: Death Spank's goal to find the Bacon Fires in each realm are hampered by obstacles that he must overcome before proceeding. This usually means Death Spank plays errand boy to many eccentric people before moving onto the next puzzle or boss encounter. Item management is handled through two inventory screens. The first displays all the weapons, armor and consumables you collect from fallen enemies and completing quests. From this screen, you can destroy items you don't need or want through the Grinder, which converts unwanted items into cash. The second inventory screen lists quest specific items you've obtained. These two inventories are not connected, so you don't have to worry about accidentally grinding up quest items. That being said, what I don't understand is why the quest inventory screen has nearly double the number of slots than the consumable inventory screen. By the end of the game, I had only managed to fill up two rows in my quest inventory while constantly fighting for space in the other inventory menu. It's a really odd design choice.
Fighting enemies is as easy as hitting whatever button you've assigned a weapon to. From the inventory screen, you can set an item or weapon to either one of the face or directional buttons. Certain weapons have a special attack feature that can be used when Death Spank's Justice Meter fills up after defeating enough enemies. There are several versions of each weapon which differ by rank and the higher the rank, the more devastating the special attack. Killing enemies earns you experience points that increase Death Spank's character level where you are given the option of picking from a set of cards that raise certain stats such as attack power and movement speed as well as equip level specific armor and weapons.
Death is hardly a concern for Death Spank, more like a minor inconvenience. Should he be overwhelmed, he'll be taken to the closest Outhouse (a spawn point that acts as an autosave spot and a teleport to other Outhouses scattered around the world map), but with a significant amount of money dropped where he was killed. Unlike Demon's Souls, you can take your time getting back to the area of your death and pick up any money you lost. So, ultimately, there really is no death penalty to fear. Well, at least on the easier difficulty settings.
The Baconing retains the series' cartoony visuals from previous games. Death Spank's appearance will change repeatedly throughout the game as he picks up armor sets and quite often, his costumes will get more and more absurd. One moment, Death Spank will go from being dressed like a Samurai to looking like an 19th century diver before swapping that outfit for one an Elvis impersonator would wear. The world itself resembles that of a shoebox diorama, with buildings and other environmental objects looking quite flat.
Each realm Death Spank visits has its own theme and visual style which the enemies and armor sets adhere to. You'll fight all sorts of jungle beasts in the Forbidden Zone, but you'll also do battle with evil leprechauns in the casino realm of Rainbow's End and even fight Scottish golfers during your stay at the Valhalla Heights Retirement Community. These changes in scenery are nice as it makes the world building aspect of The Baconing far more interesting than the gameplay.
The overall problem with the game is that it quickly shifts into a repeating pattern after you've destroyed the first Thong of Virtue. When the task is done, the game shuttles you off to the next area and asks you to do the same thing four more times. Item and weapon collection could be more fun if the rate of collection slowed down a bit. I experienced several occasions of opening up my inventory and being surprised by the number of weapons and items that had made themselves at home despite having no recollection of picking them up. Because enemies and treasures chests drop so much loot, it is really easy to lose track of what you're getting.
Weapons and equipment pour out of enemies and quest givers faster than water from a fire hydrant on a hot summer day. You'll never hang onto a weapon or piece of armor for more than five minutes before something better comes along. The Baconing doeshave a nice feature that automatically replaces current armor pieces with the better ones you pick up. This is something you can toggle, but honestly why would you? It's one less thing to worry about and there is really no reason to hang onto older items unless you need their elemental resistances. But still, wait awhile and you'll get something better.
I know its a weird thing to complain about, but I took issue with the frequency of changing gear. There's just no sense of accomplishment from the rewards. Usually in an RPG, getting new equipment is a meaningful activity. You have to weight the stats of the items you find or purchase from a store against the foes you're currently up against. At the rate you're changing equipment in The Baconing, anysense of strategy is lost. But perhaps this was intentional, given the fact that this is a five hour downloadable game. And as for in-game weapon vendors? Their stock is comprised entirely of items you have destroyed from the Grinder. Why do this? From what I can tell, there is absolutely no reason to visit the weapon shops at all. Another strange design choice, to be sure.
If the game's brand of humor were not present, chances are I would have shut it off after the first few hours. The writing and comedy are the game's strongest suit and it delights in playfully skewering popular culture, making references to or poking fun at such things like Twitter, Doctor Who, and Back to the Future. There's even a sequence lifted directly from The Curse of Monkey Island in which our hero must engage in rhyming, insult-based combat. Initially, Death Spank is entertaining to listen to as his voice direction is very similar to Ben Edlund's The Tick. However, it gets a little old after awhile and things get a little out of hand when you encounter NPCs who speak and shout in the same manner.
As it stands, The Baconing is only good for one playthrough. After completing the game, I sought no reason to play it again despite the “Insane” difficulty being made available afterwards. There is just no visible reason for going through the game again, not even if you're looking for some sort of challenge. I suppose you could go back and get all of the Achievements/Trophies, but I only received 14% of them and was perfectly content with that. If you've played the previous two Death Spank titles and enjoyed them beyond all measure, I'm sure you will delighted with The Baconing. For the rest of you, you're better off spending your time and money elsewhere.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.